☀ BEN ☀
A sketch of my Ben-self. You'll notice I'm an adult and that my Omnitrix is different than the ones on the show. And that I rock a mullet.
Preface: I would like for this essay to not just be an exploration of my own fictionkinity (though that is its main purpose) but also an introduction to the fictionkind experience in general, and to the experience of parallel lives. Of course, I am just one person and none of my experiences can be universal, but I nonetheless hope they can shed some light on fictionkinity and lead to further understanding and tolerance of these identities. And I hope it will lead to parallel lives becoming a more widely known and understood phenomenon. Feedback is greatly appreciated.
Word count: 4479
Estimated reading time: 20-25 minutes
On the 6th of December 2019 I had a weird dream. I was standing on the edge of a cliff. The wind played with my hair, long grass tickled my ankles, and high above, seabirds called out to each other. As I looked to the sky, a being made of blinding white light appeared before me. She was beautiful and graceful and older than time itself. She gently took my hand and pointed towards the horizon. My eyes followed her finger and the sky itself tore apart to reveal an inky black nothingness. But as I looked, little specks of something began to appear. Dots and lines, swirls and stars, and colors I'd never seen before. I understood then that this primordial being was showing me the beginning of this universe. And as I stared in awe, she turned to look down at me, and she told me... that I was Ben 10 fictionkind.
I don't think I've ever been as confused as I was that morning. It felt like I was still dreaming as I went through my routine, like at any moment I might wake up again. All the while, my reflection puzzled me. It was the same face I've seen every day for two decades, and yet today it just felt... wrong. I was supposed to have a human face. This wasn't the species dysphoria I'd gotten so used to. And I knew exactly which human face I was expecting to see in the mirror - it just seemed too ridiculous for me to accept.
My cameo shifts have rarely, if ever, lasted more than a few hours, and at this point they'd never been of specific characters. Sure, I had my weird relationship with Emily Jones from the now-forgotten Lego Elves franchise, where I feel like I once was her but now aren't. But I never expected to see her face in the mirror. I never felt confused when I woke up in Copenhagen instead of Elvendale. Feeling this way about Benjamin Kirby Tennyson, of all characters, when I hadn't even watched the whole show, was weird and, for some reason, embarrassing. And it just refused to go away. In total the shift lasted around 5 days. I went to classes feeling like this guy. Grocery shopping. Hung out with my dorm buddies. I went to a Christmas market with my mom, all the while distracted because I couldn't shake the feeling that, somehow, in some way, I was a fictional character from a 2005 Cartoon Network cash cow.
It didn't come completely out of the blue. Three things were happening here that probably led to this: 1) I was binging Ben 10 with my dormmate. We hadn't finished the show yet, but we'd worked our way through almost 200 episodes, so we were in deep. 2) I'd just broken it off with a girlfriend of one year. She was extremely supportive of my alterhumanity – even read a 100 page study by Devin Proctor to understand the community – so our break-up had nothing to do with that. We just realized we needed different things from a relationship. But still, it was a huge stress factor and, despite my friends' love and support, I was struggling to cope. And 3) it was finals season. The less said about that, the better. I guess what happened is that my brain latched onto one of the few simple joys I had in my life and somehow began creating an identity around that to... cope...? I guess...?
Listen, I don't know how it happened and I can only make guesses as to why. Regardless of what caused it, the effect was undeniable. After the 5 day long shift subsided, I still had a nugget of "Ben" somewhere within me that I couldn't (and, in hindsight, didn't want to) get rid of. I was ready to make a kinfirmation announcement right then and there. But, as is customary, I held off for a couple of weeks. I think my plan was to wait 3 months, but by the end of January, I made my announcement in the most gutless way possible: With a text post that read "It's okay to have 'cringy' kintypes," in the tags of which I explained that I'd kinfirmed my Ben 10 fictotype. I was still dealing with a lot of internalized shame about, not just being fictionkind, but having such a childish source material.
And yet... there was something exhilarating about it. Though my initial Ben-related feelings appeared on their own, and I felt annoyed and conflicted about them, I clearly remember reinforcing them. The socially aware side of my brain resisted – having an identity like this would be weird, it would be frowned upon, it would make it even more difficult for me to communicate who and what I am than it already is – while the self-aware side of my brain was very much in favor of forming the identity – for some reason it just felt good to experience all these fictionkin traits. More accurately, it felt right. For reasons I can't explain, I didn't want it to end. I wanted more.
The envisage shifts (where you appear a certain way in your mind/inner world, and where you perhaps expect to look that way in the mirror) weren't the only 'kin trait that was apparent from the start. They were just the most striking and the easiest to get others to understand. No, the most pervasive trait had to be the "parallel life flashes." I'm not sure what else to call them. They felt different from daydreams, somehow. More spontaneous and out of my control. And a lot more tangible. They've since become one of the hallmarks of my fictionkinity. They present themselves as flashbacks: For a less than a second, it'll feel like I'm "back" to living my life as Ben, then before I can fully grasp what happened it's over. Like an out-of-body experience (or, rather, an into-my-mindscape experience, since I believe all of this originates in my own psyche). I always get the sense that these flashes are somehow current, as opposed to being past or future. Perhaps because of their dream-like qualities, I often "just know" many details of what's going on in these flashes, just like I knew the alien in my awakening dream was older than time, despite her not telling me. Dreams (nightly or daily) are just like that. I just know that my life as Ben is happening parallel to my life as Poppy.
When talking to others (especially non-kin who can't be bothered to sit through 100 pages of Devin Proctor) I do tend to describe it as a daydream scenario, despite how different it feels from regular daydreams. The flashes tend to have dream-like qualities. And it's easier to say "in my go-to daydream scenario I'm a space traveler, which is a big part of my personality" than "I feel like I'm literally living a parallel life as Ben 10 and this affects my very sense of self." I suppose a big part of it is also the embarrassment I mentioned earlier - notice I vaguely called myself a space traveler instead of mentioning my fictotype by name. Ease of communication is part of it, but, undeniably, so is the masking of my true self to give a more appealing first impression. It's blatant self-suppression.
But – perhaps like Ben Tennyson himself – wearing masks is what I do. It's what I've done since I was 1O. I craft identities for different scenarios and just flip the switch (or hit the watch) when necessary. I've learned how to contain the autism creature within, to appear normal when necessary, and I've learned how to to blend in with the background. Self-suppression has been vital to me, even if it's frustrating to have to do.
What I'm getting at is that, though this awakening was unexpected, it wasn't out of character for me. And in hindsight there really are a lot of things in my life that, combined, seem to have led to this.
Before I go into further detail, I feel like a disclaimer is in order: My upbringing wasn't abusive, but that doesn't mean it was perfect. I was raised by a single mother who gave most of her attention to my older brother due to various difficulties he had. I don't know if I blame her for the issues I have. It doesn't feel right to place blame on other struggling people, but I can't blame everything on circumstance either. I don't think anyone comes out of childhood unscathed. Generations of trauma have been built up and, even if our parents treat us better than they were treated, they're still marked by their own childhoods, which will reflect in their parenting. My upbringing was a million times better than my own mom's and she worked hard to accomplish that. That said... I can draw a very clear parallel between my childhood experiences and my current identity: I had to be the "good child" to make up for my brother's issues, I had to carry part of my mom's stress, and I couldn't let out my own frustrations, lest my mom become even more stressed. In my parallel life I'm dealing with the same problems, but magnified to a scale where they're actually taken seriously. Instead of carrying the weight of a parent, I carry the weight of the world. I become less of a person and more of a symbol for others to look towards, whether for support, reassurance, or something else. In that sense, it doesn't seem unlikely that my fictionkinity is some kind of subconscious coping mechanism. Though I have to add, I only became aware fully aware of how this passive emotional neglect had affected me – how this is the reason I can't ask for help and constantly take on bigger burdens than I should – several months after my awakening, and even then only after some really intense self-analysis.
I've been trying to come up with more reasons I happened to awaken as Ben 10, of all characters, but it all feels so... fabricated. I was obsessed with ufology as a kid and this character is involved with aliens. But I was obsessed with ancient Egypt and with horses too, why didn't I awaken as Tutankhamun or Black Beauty? I religiously watched Ben 10 every time I visited my grandparents, who had cable tv, but I watched Danny Phantom with the same intensity. I don't think there really is a perfect recipe for what causes a fictionkind identity. All these attempts at rationalizing it are probably a distraction – [which I've spoken about at length before]. But it's hard to really internalize the idea that 'kinity is about what you are, when you've been "gifted" with a human brain that relentlessly asks why, why, why. It's hard to look at the cold hard facts when your mind keeps wandering to theories and hypotheses.
And in all this, you forget to even examine what cold hard facts you know.
What are the cold hard facts?
My name is [redacted]. I go by Poppy online. At this point it might as well be my name. And recently I've felt an urge to call myself Ben. When I close my eyes and try to picture myself, the image is ever changing. Sometimes I see a bipedal bison. Sometimes a gnoll. Often a mix of the two. And sometimes I see a young man with brown hair, green eyes, and a watch-like device stuck to his arm. Then I open my eyes, look in the mirror, and see something entirely different. Lighter hair, eyes more hazel than green, and something that decidedly doesn't look like a man. Or a bison or gnoll, for that matter.
I have daydream scenarios I keep returning to – stories I want to tell, the garden I wish I had, scientific advancements I dream of achieving, fanfics I'll never write. And then I have these scenarios that share many qualia with daydreams, but are altogether different. In these scenarios, I am a different person. I am living a different life, surrounded by different people, making different choices, subjected to different trials. I have two of these lives: One in which I'm a gnoll named Ɐwhrayɐ and one in which I'm a man named Ben. I did not set out to create these lives. I can't purposefully change what's happening in them – even with my belief that it all has a psychological cause, something is preventing me from changing anything. And yet, I almost always know what my alternate selves are doing, right in this moment. I can't affect their actions, I can just be aware of them. And despite this apparent wall, separating my present self from them, in some way I feel - or perhaps rather I know - that I am them. It's like... I can't affect what my past self did or said either, but I still am raer. I am still roughly the same person I was yesterday, even if today I might have made different choices. My parallel/alternate selves work in a similar way, but separated by physicality instead of time.
I'm not consciously aware of every waking moment of my parallel selves. When I say I "know" what they're doing, it's less that their thoughts and actions are beamed into my brain 24/7, and more that I can at any moment sit down, breathe, let my mind go blank, and view their world through their eyes. Like I'm possessing their bodies (though, again, my present self is not in control – my alternate selves are). Even if I don't intend to, I often end up "possessing" them during quiet moments – when I'm about to fall asleep, when I'm in transit, when I'm cleaning, and so on. What happens during quiet moments is rarely a "full body possession," though. More often, I'll just experience the thoughts or feelings of my parallel selves (alongside my present-self thoughts or feelings) and have to parse it out. I can be vacuuming the floor, having a normal one, and then suddenly I'll be intimately aware the Ben!Me is bored or that Ɐwhrayɐ!Me is in danger. I then have to extrapolate as much information as possible from this quick flash (like a flashback, but current, not past... a flashsideways? flashadjacent? flashalong? Let's go with that). If the "flashalong" was accompanied by an image, which they often are, it's not too difficult to figure out what my alternate self is doing. If it's just an emotion and nothing else, I can try to piece it together with the other flashalongs I've had recently - if yesterday my parallel self got lost and today I sense despair, it's not too difficult to put two and two together and know that they haven't found their way out yet.
But Ben is different from Ɐwhrayɐ in one major way: He has source material. Though I've been aware of my life as Ben – my Ben fictotype – for much shorter than my life as Ɐwhrayɐ, I know a lot more about my Ben life. I have more [noemata], more frequent flashalongs, and my memories of Ben's childhood are much clearer than my memories of Ɐwhrayɐ's childhood. This is undoubtedly because I can just watch an episode of any Ben 1O series and immediately become aware of new things in that life. Whereas Ɐwhrayɐ is more like an original character – rair origins are in tabletop RPGs, but I can't just open up a book and know rair life history. Which is not to say I can know Ben's entire history from just watching the show either. For starters, the show is a mess of time travel and retcons and alternate universes. Secondly: I'm not the Ben depicted on the show.
The Ben 10 cartoons (with the exception of the 2016 reboot) all follow one character who has been dubbed Ben Prime by the fandom. If we view time as a tree with different timelines branching off, Prime is the tree's trunk. We're shown other branches of the tree – No Watch Ben, Bad Ben, Ben 23, Benzarro, and so on – who are all Ben, no matter how differently their lives turned out compared to Prime's. What happens when I watch the show is either nothing (most common; I simply get no indication whether the episode I'm watching is part of my canon), divergence (uncommon; I don't necessarily know how the events happened but I know for sure they didn't happen like they're depicted), or recognition (rare; realizing that things happened pretty much like they're depicted). The most apparent difference between my own timeline and the Prime timeline is that I found the Omnitrix when I was 13 and that I didn't get a break in-between the events of the original series and Alien Force. My first 10 aliens were also different from those of Prime and included at least one alien that hasn't appeared on the show (yet). There are many more differences, but most of them are subtle: I still have a relationship with Kai, but it's aromantic. I'm still friends with Rook, but we argue a lot. Azmuth is still the creator of the watch, but I have a sort of coworker relationship with him, more than a mentor/student relationship. And speaking of the watch, the Omnitrix is completely fused to me. My mind has affected its AI and its AI has affected my mind. We function more like a median system than two separate entities. We aren't ourselves without each other. I suppose my true fictotype is the fusion of Ben and the Omnitrix, rather than just Ben Tennyson. [Here's something I wrote about it not too long ago]. As far as I'm aware, this also isn't a part of the Prime canon.
But this essay isn't supposed to just be about my canon. I'll have plenty of other opportunities to explore that. These pages are devoted to just exploring what it means to me to be fictionkind.
I've already mentioned envisage shifts and "possession" shifts (not a name I'm fond of, but there's so little terminology to describe parallel life experiences, let's just go with that for now). I also frequently experience phantom shifts, where it feels like I'm still wearing the Omnitrix. Those are easy to handle, though. I just put on a bracelet or cuff so there's a physical correspondence to the phantom sensation and go about my day. I also get the occasional chest/bottom phantom sensations, but I can't tell if those a Ben-related since I already experienced them prior to my awakening (and it's a very important part of my beliefs and worldview that all my Ben-feelings only began to appear after my awakening). I also get dream shifts, but since my dreams are pure nonsense, all they tend to involve is me being in Ben's body while going through wacky dream scenarios. If I'm making these shifts sound mundane, it's because they are. At least in comparison the envisage shifts and... by far the strangest and most disorienting shifts I've experienced: The mental shifts. In a mild mental shift I'll just take on a few mannerisms of the character, which can include anything from a chiller/more confident mood, to an inclination to play fighting games instead of my usual RPGs, to an urge to help others more than I'd usually do. Make the shift a bit stronger and I might want to go by Ben's name instead of my own or dress in clothes more similar to his. Turn it up even more, though, and we enter the weird territory. Something more akin to a berserker shift than a mental shift, using therian terminology. I've only experienced this once and it can't have lasted more than 5 seconds, but for those seconds I was fully convinced that I was Ben and I couldn't understand why I was in this foreign body and place. I've taken to calling it an "eclipse shift," since "berserker shift" implies a rabid or feral state of mind, which is not something you can really apply to a human(ish) fictotype, and the shift essentially involves my fictotype's state of mind eclipsing my regular state of mind. Here are some of the discussions we had in the community surrounding it:   .
My fictionkinity is mainly marked by the aforementioned shifts and "flashalongs," but another trait (perhaps something that exists as a result of those two?) is dysphoria and euphoria. Typically when people think of dys-/euphoria, they think of it as something bodily. And I can't argue that that's not a thing for me too. I'm bigender and genderfluid, which in my case means that I have one static baseline gender identity (female hyena) and one fluid gender, which is most often bison bull, but can be anything – including Just Some Guy, which is basically Ben's gender identity. And when I feel like Just Some Guy, I, of course, experience dysphoria about my very feminine appearance. But that's a thankfully rare thing.
No, most of my Ben-related dysphoria is caused by the restrictions of my present body and mind. Did you know the nearly all versions of Ben Tennyson have eidetic memory? Or that they have an inherent ability to understand astrophysics? Or that they're adept at half a dozen different fighting styles? I've got none of that. Sure, I could practice memory improvement techniques. I could learn the basics of astrophysics. I could take up martial arts. But every time I've tried, my own frustrations about being a beginner have prevented me from practicing. It's not that I'm a perfectionist and think I should be instantly good at every new skill. I've sucked (or still suck) at a lot of stuff that I do every day – singing, plant care, video games, you name it – but it's not an issue. As the saying goes, sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something. But with the talents Ben has... it feels less like learning a new skill and more like having to relearn something I used to be great at. With those subjects, it's like I loose my ability to understand or rationalize why I still suck, so instead of pushing on, I drop it all in frustration. I had just enough patience to understand the surface cause of gravitational time dilation, but once the lectures turned to the theory of relativity, I lost it. I've begrudgingly concluded that my present brain isn't built for that stuff. Until I develop a natural understanding of quantum mechanics, like I'm supposed to have, I'll just stick to my not-Ben-related studies in entomology.
Another thing I struggle with is the limitations of my present body. I feel like it's literally weighing me down. In my Ben life, my body is a construct of the Omnitrix that can be modified, dismantled, and recreated at any time. My consciousness isn't connected to my body; everything that's "me" is stored within the Omnitrix. My body is just a temporary vessel we – the watch and I – have created to interact with the world. It is possible to "upload" my consciousness to the body and for the Omnitrix to completely detach itself, but it's only been done a handful of times and only in life or death situations. And from what I can pericall it's deeply uncomfortably. Only with the Omnitrix gone do I notice how heavy the human body is. Without the watch I feel slow and sluggish and weak. And, in my present life, being able to pericall how I'm supposed to feel – lighter, quicker, stronger – and being unable to do anything about it because nothing can get rid of the heaviness of this body... it's exhausting. It's maddening. And it's not just the heaviness, its staticness is driving me crazy too. I'm meant to be a shapeshifter, and not just in my Ben life, but in my Ɐwhrayɐ life too. Whether due to the Omnitrix happening to attach itself to me, or because I was born with druid powers, I'm a shapeshifter in 2/3 of my lives. And to primarily exist in the life where I'm not a shapeshifter is torture.
But I have to live here. In the present world. I can't spend my life wishing I existed somewhere else. I have to be present; I have to make this life as good as it can be. Anything else would be wasteful. I can't fully get rid of the uncomfortableness of belonging to another world, but I can make this world more comfortable. Make it more like the world I belong in.
Part of me is grateful to have awakened as a character who is, in many ways, just incredibly mundane. The hero archetype is an exaggerated version of a trait I believe everyone is born with: A basic desire to help. Though his circumstances are extraordinary, Ben's motivations could not be more ordinary. So while there is some kind of disconnect between my present life and my Ben life, like our bodies and abilities and relationships, the melding of our minds has been quite harmonic. I feel like this awakening has helped me actualize some desires I already had by turning them into outright urges, and by dialing them up to 100. So, for example, instead of just giving money to the unhoused, I strike up a conversation with them now because it's what he/I/we're supposed to do. Helping my dormmate dry her dishes before she's even asked me to. Always asking others what I can do to help. And it doesn't just extend to people. I find myself, more often than I used to, helping a snail across the road or giving a neglected plant a second chance at life. Taking that extra step is slowly becoming second nature in a lot of my daily interactions. And I find that I do good more for goodness sake, where, in the past, I might've been prone to humble-bragging. (And it pains me to talk about my "good deeds" right now because it actually makes me really embarrassed to get attention for something I feel is the bare minimum of human decency). My awakening wasn't a total life changer. But it did reinforce my desire to be a helper and a caretaker.. a supporting character, I guess you could say. And it instilled in me an idealistic and unwavering belief that people are overall good, despite everything. That pain and suffering are accidents and that kindness is intentional.
I'm Ben. I carry that with me for the foreseeable future – possibly until I die. But I'm also Ɐwhrayɐ. And, most importantly, I'm Poppy. I'm multifaceted, like every other person on Earth. One of my facets just happens to be a fictional character.
Last updated: July 2022